'Get Ready for Brexit' ad blitz did not make public 'significantly better prepared', says watchdog

Posted On: 
28th January 2020

A multi-million pound advertising blitz designed to get the public ready for Brexit did not make them "significantly better prepared" for it, the public spending watchdog has found.

A Get Ready for Brexit billboard in London.
Credit: 
PA

The National Audit Office said it was not clear that the Government's 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign had made a major impact - despite £46 million of public money being spent on it.

The push came ahead of Britain's expected 31 October departure from the EU, but was shelved on 28 October after Parliament ordered Boris Johnson to seek a fresh extension. 

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The NAO found that 34% of UK citizens said they had either looked at or had started to look at information on Brexit preparedness at the time the campaign was stopped - a figure that was "broadly unchanged from the beginning of the campaign".

"It ranged between 32% and 37% during the campaign and was 34% when the campaign stopped," the NAO found.

The Government had spent £46m of the campaign's £100m budget by that point, it said. 

The report acknowledges that the Cabinet Office, which ran the campaign, "quickly assembled a team" to work on the project, which came together in just six weeks rather than the standard five months for a government TV push.

And it acknowledged that the team had to "communicate multiple messages to multiple audiences, amid great political uncertainty".

NAO head Gareth Davies said: "At short notice, the Cabinet Office successfully corralled multiple government departments to work together effectively and launched this complex campaign at great speed. However, it is not clear that the campaign resulted in the public being significantly better prepared.

"If the Cabinet Office faces a similar challenge in the future, it should, from the start, focus much more on what impact is needed and how best to deliver the behaviour change required by government, targeting spending on the activities that are likely to add the greatest value."

The Liberal Democrats seized on the report's findings to demand an investigation from the separate Electoral Commission watchdog.

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said: "What a colossal waste of taxpayers money. This damning report shows what we knew all along: the Conservative government's 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign was an expensive propaganda stunt designed ahead of the election to help no one but Boris Johnson stay in Number 10.

"Once again the Tories are misusing their powers at the expense of our democracy. Given how poorly this campaigned performed it should be referred to the Electoral Commission and be included as part of the Tory general election spend." 

But a Government spokesman said: "The Get ready for Brexit campaign reached 99.8% of the UK population and the NAO's findings showed increased public awareness of the action they needed to take to be ready to leave the EU.

"Not undertaking the campaign would have risked significant and unnecessary disruption to businesses and to people's lives."